Thursday, July 30, 2009

clearing my head

I have had a sad week. Last Friday, I dropped my older son off at a birthday party. Not just any birthday party: a party that was essentially a mini-reunion of all his friends from our now-defunct progressive school. Big One was especially lucky in friends at our school; not every kid had a large group of kids his own age, and these kids all arrived at the school by age 5 or 6, so when the school closed when they were 9, they'd shared a lot of experiences. Going to school is about seeing friends for many kids, I think, and especially so at a school that nurtures the natural connections kids make with each other through classroom structure and curriculum. These kids were really tight.

I have had many moments in the nearly two years since the school closed, more than I care to admit, of blaming people for its closure. I blame administrators, board members, other teachers, even certain parents, each for playing a part in bringing the whole thing down. Some more than others, of course, but it's been such a big personal disaster for me that there's plenty of blame to go around.

I have had a creeping suspicion from time to time that all that blame pointed away from me must really mean that I blame myself in some fundamental way, but that I'm just not ready to look at that yet.

And then there I was at the party, standing around with the parents and kids I used to see every day, and it all came crashing in. I let in my feelings of shame and guilt, and rather than brush them away this time, I decided to ride them like a wave. It didn't feel good.

I wasn't always the best teacher I could have been. I sometimes blamed others for not taking care of all kinds of things, when it could just have easily been me. I got distracted, over and over, by gossip and politics. I sometimes forgot that my only real work, ever, was with the kids and the parents. I wallowed in anger and misery when I believed our precious school was being squandered by those who didn't really get it, rather than stepping up and trying to educate. Which was, after all, my job.

I stood there looking at these kids, so happy to see each other again, and I wanted to apologize, to them and to their parents, for all that I did and failed to do that contributed to the closing of the school, and I knew immediately that to attempt it wouldn't make any sense to them. Not only would they not have any idea what I was talking about, but it also would have been absurdly self-serving to take what was a joyful occasion for the kids and try to turn it into some kind of confession session for me.

And I wondered what I could do instead, and I thought of posting here. Some of the people who read this blog are former colleagues and parents at the school, and I think most of them won't understand why it's important to me to do this, here. Please know that although many of you have a great deal of faith in me, I am not blameless, and I need to say so, publicly.

I am hoping that this post may be a step toward putting the school and its miserable, ugly demise in the past, because I really need to find out where I'm going next.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate this blog post Elsie! about 12 years ago, something similar happened to me. We closed our out of hospital birth center for a myriad of reasons. The actual process of closing it and the ending of intense relationships was brutal. I too walk around with lingering feelings of blame and recrimination. I was truly physically and mentally burnt out and I am still loathe to get involved in a similar endeavor, because of my history.
I'm not sure why i am telling you this, but i do want you to know that you are not alone in this process (in the general sense). I think that when we truly care about something, and we believe in what we are doing to our core, that the loss of it goes very very deep.

To be completely honest, I am still, in a sense, working through my experience in that way.... 12 years later. I think what you are doing will help you to uncover the next layer of what is so you can continue to move forward and evolve from what happened.

I suggest highly, the book The Artists Way. It helped me immensely through that experience and I am recognizing that i need to re-do it once again. (maybe we could talk weekly about it or offer one another support?)
Much love and big hugs to you as you take your steps forward and through the pain and transformation you are in the middle of.

JoVE said...

This sounds like an important step on your journey. And a difficult one. Congratulations on moving to this space and may I offer a cup of tea and a sympathetic hug for how hard this continues to be for you.

I'm sure you achieved great things. The loss of the school must be a continuing sadness. But don't let it overshadow the good.

Here's to the good things in your future, whatever they are.

Sullyce3 said...

I didn't realize you were carrying around all that...makes sense though because I know (you know I know) how much a part of you that school was. It was for you and it certainly was for us...To me, YOU are what made that a special school. It was your love, understanding, unbreakable sense of committment to those kids (and mine of course) that made that school what it was...What those boys had was so so special in each other...I'm wondering if those bonds will go on and on...I certainly hope so...I'm going to do my best to foster that...I'm glad Lynn and Scott did...I didn't do so well this year with that...Take it easy on yourself and let it is what it is and who knows...maybe it all happened for a reason! Love you!

JoVE said...

This post was bothering me. So I've got another comment. I'm not sure you will want to hear this perspective but I'm going to put it out there anyway. And I think I see glimpses in that last comment.

What if it wasn't a failure?

For the kids, it most certainly wasn't. They had several great years. They learned things. They built friendships, friendships that have survived the school. It was probably a very positive period in their lives.

I have no doubt that the period at the end was painful. These things almost always are.

But that doesn't mean that the whole time the school was running was somehow deficient. It doesn't mean that the project failed. Maybe it means that it was only a 4 year thing.

Or maybe, despite the hard work and dedication of everyone involved, the school (which is more than the sum of the individuals involved) just couldn't sustain itself somehow.

And if that is the case, you are not to blame. Nor anyone else. You did your best. We'll assume everyone else did the best they could at the time.

But now you can put your best into something else.

And I know you struggle with what that something else might be. I'm not sure how to help with that. But you have a contribution to make. And you need let go of the sense of failure so you can confidently go forth and make that contribution in some other way.

Forever is overrated. In so many ways, the school was a success. How can you bring the success into new venues?

Anonymous said...

That was a big thing to process right in the middle of a party. It's good to see when we've not lived up to our expectations, but then it's important to look to the future. I hope that you will find some resolution and clarity about where you're going. Hard work, eh?

shaunms said...

I'm so sorry you are feeling down about this. I remember being jealous of the school before I even knew who you were! It sounds like the kind of experience anyone would regret leaving.

On a personal note, I know what it is to see a big project you've given years to not work out -- my frustration and resentment still crop up, and I have not yet figured out how to forgive some of the others involved.

On the philosophical tip, however, I am so with Jove: permanence is totally overrated, or at least not a good indicator of success or worth.

VoodooMama said...

Hey Elsie,

I read this post only now, over a month later--and I hope you're feeling better at this point! It breaks my heart to know that you have felt this way. You truly were (from my perspective, and by the time we arrived on the scene) the heart and soul of that place. You gave so very much to so many kids and parents. I myself am a better parent and person for having been a part of your classroom at that school. And as traumatic and horrible as the end was, I'd go through it again in a heartbeat to gain what we did from you in the time before it all came crashing down around and on top of us all. I don't know if it helps at all to hear someone say that you truly should not blame yourself (though I don't think you should!!), so instead I'll just leave you with my immense gratitude and appreciation for all that you gave to George and to me during those months that we were with you there.